As a child, I wasn't taught the importance of an education, let alone how to use an adjective. I lived in the projects, and it smelled of despair. I breathed it in every day. The only way out of it was by playing professional ball or hustling.
My family and I never talked about school as the ticket to a future. School, for me, wasn’t about classwork. I was given 25 cents and a free lunch ticket five times a week. My mama signed on the dotted line to make sure I got the lunch. I was in classrooms, but I wasn’t there to learn to write or read or speak. I knew that I should sit down and not act out, or, as Mama used to say, it would cost me.
Being unable to verbally express what I was feeling inside kept me angry. I was in a classroom full of — for the most part — learning-challenged students. But I wasn’t better than them. Teachers handed out worksheets I couldn’t comprehend. My classmates sat proudly in their chairs and read out loud, but an all-too-familiar fear crept up inside of me. When it came time for me to read aloud, I wanted to hide. I was ready to vomit almost all the time. I cried constantly. Not literally — my tears fell inside me. I was 13 years old, and I was stuck in a rut. Some said that I was destined for the penitentiary.
My Classroom Nightmare
I had an English teacher, Mr. Creech, who was part of my nightmare. He knew. He knew I was assigned to only two regular classes a day, and that the one class I attended most of the day was full of struggling students. He knew I couldn’t read. And he found it necessary to expose my secret. He would turn to me and say with a smirk, “Anthony, why don’t you read the next paragraph?” I didn’t know what a paragraph was. I tried to read what was in front of me. Valiantly. I saw the words on the page, but my mind seemed unable to touch the sounds. I saw the curves of the letters of the words, but I couldn’t transform them into meaning. The sound of my halting voice incited laughter among my classmates and comments like “You are so stupid.”
For years I dwelled inside my inadequacies, attempting to dismantle them brick by brick. I hated being who I was. I hated school, and a part of me believed it hated me back. Knowing my failure, though, made me reluctant to fix it; I hated the thought of reading because I knew I couldn’t do it. It was a cycle I couldn’t break out of. How did this happen? It was the school and the teachers who didn’t encourage me, but it was also my parents, who never told me to focus on my education, and, finally, it was me for giving up.
Setting the Record Straight
I was 41 years old when I flew back to Texas to visit friends and family. On my way from the airport, my best friend suggested we have a drink at a nearby bar. As we sat down, I saw someone across the smoke-filled room. It was Mr. Creech, my former English teacher, leaning over the bar buying himself a drink. I rushed over and reached into my pocket to pay for him.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, you do know me,” I answered. “My name is Anthony Hamilton, and I was in your fourth-period class.” The look on his face told me that he did remember the boy he had once shamed.
“I’m so glad I had a chance to see you,” I said. “And, Mr. Creech, I have great news to share.” I told him I had learned to read. But that wasn’t all. I had become a published author and a motivational speaker. “I tell every person who is willing to listen, Mr. Creech, that anything is possible when you believe in who you are.”
Then I told him I wanted him to do me a favor. He asked what it was. “The next time you get another Anthony Hamilton in your classroom, please teach him how to read.”
As I said that, I remember thanking God for that moment to be able to come face to face with what I thought was my nemesis. I truly believe that everything we go through in life has a purpose.
My Disability Has a Name
The experts say that what once disabled me has a name: dyslexia. I can tell you it was something else as well. It was a lack of craving for an education.
That’s far from my life today. My belly now hungers for verbs and adjectives, synonyms, and paragraphs. I am optimistic about my future. I write to be the author of my life and because of my faith in another Author of my life. If it were not for my Father in Heaven, I would possess no expression.
I also write to give back. I write because of the boy in the community college classroom here in Hayward, California, who read my book, for the teacher who put my book on the syllabus, and for the people who have read me and tell me — and I am truly humbled by their words — that they found some meaning in what I have put down on paper.